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Jesus' "Great Commandments" go like this:

religious tendencies

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

These are not just great commandments, though, they are also "Great Observations." After all, you are unlikely to love your neighbor if you hate yourself. Similarly, you know that thing you love wholeheartedly? That's your "God." Even further, I'd suggest humans have a built in devotional tendency, and are religious whether they want to be or not.

Historically, people fought wars about which God is the correct one, and their (of necessity irrational) allegiance to whichever God their nation or tribe adopted often inspired soldiers to heroic acts. But even today, people can do amazing things in their service to ... oh, the Oakland Raiders. Sure, that's not the church-recognized God, but it has that quality of devotion the Great Observations require.

Even today, people can do amazing things in their service to ... oh, the Oakland Raiders. Sure, that's not the church-recognized God, but it has that quality of devotion the Great Observations require.

To a dictionary, religion is a "body of dogma"...but real religions have changeable dogma (an oxymoron? a doggymoron?). Typically priests preserve traditions, but prophets question and sometimes overturn or transform that preserved dogma in ways the priesthood abhors. After all, the priests were rooting for the Romans to crucify Jesus.

This is devotional tendency is true even in science-olatry. Those who worship science as the genuine way to access the truth first of all ignore the endorsement of experiment in traditional religions. Buddhists often hear disclaimers that the final authority is experience, not some pronouncement from a monk. Jesus himself told his disciples that they would know his true followers "by their fruits." In other words, see how their actions turn out. Sounds like an endorsement of experiment to me.

But secondly, science-olaters ignore how susceptible science is to the human tendency to cling to tradition or dogma, even though experiment proves it wrong. Max Planck's quanta (of "quantum mechanics") was one such case. Planck discovered energy came in discrete packets, and was, at the atomic level, not continuous. Nevertheless, the Newtonian physicists of Planck's time would not change their minds, even though quanta explain several things Newtonian physics cannot. Said Planck: "The truth never triumphs, its opponents simply die out. Science advances one funeral at a time."

As Planck predicted, quantum mechanics ultimately triumphed, but not before lots of scientists disputed it. Several science-for-pay scandals in pharmaceuticals and climate science continue to plague us today, so declaring some conclusion as the result of "science" is no guarantee of purity or truthfulness. I'd suggest the envy of the simplicity of Newtonian physics motivates lots of simple-minded pseudo-science, too. These types of advanced superstition remain a current concern.

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The great world religious all have some equivalent of the of the golden rule (that second "Great Commandment"), and all have some disclaimer that experience trumps religious declaration. The first of the ten commandments forbidding idolatry says to stop worshiping symbols, and start worshiping and respecting reality, at least in some sense.

In any case, George Carlin's critique of religion aside, one of the side effects of rejecting religiosity is that people sensibly reject religious abuse, but throw the baby out with the bath water, rejecting wholesale the wisdom, the history and traditions of religions. They are certainly not perfect, but if the recent past is any indication, neither is the anti-religious secular science-olatry or the advanced superstitions which declare some Newtonian truth.

One other religious principle that remains perennial, declares how people get saved. Is salvation earned (salvation by works) or a gift (salvation by grace)? Orthodox religions throughout the world assert it is the latter, so we can't claim we deserve where we landed, but an all-too-human sense of how life is supposed to be leads men to embrace the former.

Lots of New Testament parables go over this ground: the prodigal son gets something far beyond his just deserts. The parable of the workmen who get the same pay whether they worked eight hours or one says something similar.

But, in truth, we cannot claim to have earned our current circumstances. We didn't earn the right to be born where we were rather than, say, Somalia. We didn't earn the right to mental or physical health, such as we have, even though our sense of advanced superstition leads us to punish the mentally ill as though they have done something to deserve their disease. How else can we account for the insane amount of incarceration in the U.S?

We can't lord our superior wisdom or dental work over our inferiors because we earned the right with our correct actions or better judgment. In fact, we can't even claim we earned the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong.

It may let air out of some people's self-esteem, but I have it on divine authority. We are blessed with many gifts. Even the curses we have to manage can turn out to be blessings.

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Mark Dempsey
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